Radiohead DeCal: “Talk Show Host” & “Palo Alto” B-Side Reviews

Radiohead circa 1997

Radiohead circa 1997

So I promised more Radiohead-related posts this semester because of my DeCal assignments – here they are. I thoroughly enjoy each assignment, and it’s my hope that by posting them on my blog, fans and curious people alike can get a better idea of Radiohead’s music. I’ve embedded the YouTube videos as well for your convenience – check them out!

For your next homework, we would like you to write a paper reviewing the b-sides Talk Show Host (The Bends) and Palo Alto (OK Computer) on any qualities you deem worth writing about. It would be great if it was in a style similar to music reviewers you like (whether that be Pitchfork writers, Guardian writers, AV Club writers, etc.). Keep in mind the context of these songs; Talk Show Host came out in ’96 and Palo Alto in ’97, when the musical landscape was much different than it is now.

“Talk Show Host”

“Can you hear us?” Thom playfully asks the crowd at Glastonbury in 2003 before launching into the coolest rendition of “Talk Show Host” ever. The song is originally found on the b-side of The Bends and has an interesting in-between sound highlighting the band’s evolution to their fully-fledged selves in OK Computer.

In keeping in line with many Radiohead songs, “Talk Show Host” has a dark and foreboding overall sound. I enjoyed the sparseness of it – the drums and the lone guitar at the intro is especially a pleasure to listen to. Another interesting observation is that the song is primarily drum-driven, quite a rarity. Taking on an almost hip-hop-like syncopated beat, the drumbeat combines with the other instruments to create a funky-fun song.

The meaning of the lyrics is unclear. To me, the lyrics seem almost like a challenge – Thom is daring whoever he’s addressing to come and find him. He’s not going to give up without a good fight. Related to the title, this song could be referring to the band’s distaste of fame, especially from their rapid rise from obscurity due to a popular single, “Creep.”

The live version of this song played at Glastonbury is especially cool because of Jonny’s added keyboard effects and the trippy jam session at the end of the song. I definitely thought to myself, “When did Radiohead become a jam band?” In any case, I think “Talk Show Host” is a welcome break from the usual songs, is an excellent b-side recording, and shows that the band also likes to have fun when they’re performing.

“Palo Alto”

As a SoCalian who’s found his new home in the Bay Area, I’ve come to appreciate the amazing tech culture around me. With an explosion of startups, the massive success of tech companies like Facebook and Google, and a chill, friendly group of residents, Silicon Valley is rightfully seen by many to be an optimistic hope for America’s future.

“Palo Alto” is a b-side from Radiohead’s seminal album OK Computer and was influenced by the band’s visit to Palo Alto in 1996. Although this song was originally titled “OK Computer,” I can see why the band chose to leave it off the LP – it’s just too happy to fit in with the rest of the songs on the album.

Although the song sounds nearly like a generic rock song, I did enjoy the cool guitar effects, weird background white noise, and computer-noise effects – very fitting within the context of the OK Computer era.

The lyrics in “Palo Alto” are surprisingly straightforward, and it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that these words are taken directly from Thom’s observations during his visit to the city. “Meet the boss/Meet the wife/Everybody’s happy/Everyone is made for life.” The lyrics paint a very optimistic picture of Silicon Valley. As one of the biggest technology centers in the United States, Silicon Valley symbolizes forwardness, better living, and happiness. At the same time, typical Thom covers the more negative effects of this new world – there is no more time, it’s difficult to concentrate, and a lot of interaction is shallow and fleeting.

This song makes sense in the context of OK Computer, which focuses on technology and the feelings of alienation, confusion, and sadness in light of a supposed “better” future. When this song was released in 1997, animal cloning was a big news topic and the dot com bubble was growing larger and larger, waiting for disaster in just a few short years. “Palo Alto” serves as a cautionary tale and proves that sometimes, things that seem too good to be true, are.

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